I don’t like movies that are predictable. Like the typical romantic comedy where the couple who despises each other falls in love in the end or the true-crime thriller where we know the killer’s identity from scene one. Scriptwriters may try to pull the wool over our eyes but the American public is not stupid. We might be disinterested. We might be overweight. But we know what we like. Entertain us. Just don’t lie, don’t cheat and don’t mislead.
Take Mark McGwire for example. Is there a baseball fan in America that for one second doubted he was on steroids? His announcement was followed by a collectively sarcastic “Oh really.”
Even the most ardent McGwire fan couldn’t look you straight in the face and tell you Mac wasn’t juicing. Like your average predictable movie, everyone in the audience knew what was coming. But we watched anyway. After all, what’s a Big Mac without the special sauce?
The Sosa-McGwire home run race of 1998 made for great theater. After a cancelled World Series only a few years earlier, fans desperately wanted to believe in the national pastime again. What better way that to make that happen than to have one of its most hallowed records fall?
We knew the numbers were tainted, the shadow of a giant asterisk looming overhead. What we didn’t know was how long McGwire could live the lie.
When Andy Pettitte admitted to using performance enhancing drugs, it was a big thing… for a while. He said he took them to expedite rehabilitation. Pettitte came clean, we moved on. His legal advisors obviously didn’t work for the firm of Clemens, Bonds & Palmeiro.
In essence, McGwire’s confession didn’t resolve anything. A number of questions remain unanswered.
Instead of refusing to “talk about the past” at the Congressional hearings, what if McGwire had admitted taking steroids right then and there? Would that have changed anything, and if so how? Would others have come clean sooner? Instead we’re left with the image of Sosa, McGwire and Palmeiro standing outside the courtroom like the cast of Stand By Me pinky swearing they’re not going to rat each other out.
Had McGwire come clean sooner, how much closer would he be along the path of forgiveness? How many baseball writers would now be putting anything other than a resounding ‘No’ on their Hall of Fame ballots?
What if steroids had never entered baseball? How much longer would it have taken the sport to recover from the World Series that wasn’t?
Are we still supposed to believe that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens never took performance enhancers? How is it possible that the greatest hitter and pitcher of our generation were better than EVERYONE ELSE when the rest of the league was using? And what percentage of the league was that? 25%? 50%? 75%?
Why the stigma surrounding steroids? Because the players inherently knew it was wrong even though the league didn’t test for them? Is it because we still have images of a debilitating Lyle Alzado in our heads? Were performance enhancers still immoral if they made our favorite players get better quicker? Why weren’t they made illegal earlier?
If everyone was using, doesn’t that ultimately level the playing field, not historically but at least in the modern game? How will we look back on the period? Should the record books be revised? If so, how? How big and broad is the asterisk? Is Jose Canseco the smartest guy in the room?
How accountable is Tony LaRussa, or any other manager, who coached players on the juice? Furthermore, how accountable should Bud Selig be for presiding over, if not profiting from, the sport over this time?
Are we supposed to have more or less respect for Mark McGwire after his confession? Or should we remain indifferent? What if a player already in the Hall of Fame admitted he had used performing enhancing drugs? Would he be expelled?
When it’s all said and done, it’s about accountability. McGwire is hoping to exorcize his personal demons. He might feel better, but do we? As the new St Louis Cardinals hitting coach, he wants to reenter baseball with a clean slate. He suggested he could have hit 70 home runs without steroids, but that doesn’t matter. It’s hypothetical and smacks of desperation.
Like every fan, I still have questions. Some I might want answered, some I might not. Or maybe I don’t really care. It’s like a movie I already know the end to and we already know, I don’t watch those.